The US intelligence officials were aware about a mysterious contagion spreading through China's Wuhan, at least since November. The details of what is now known as novel coronavirus were part of the a November intelligence report by the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), a part of Pentagon's defense intelligence agency.
Top officials repeatedly briefed all through December
US intel reports warned about the novel coronavirus sweeping through China's Wuhan, ABC News reported, citingfour unnamed sources briefed on the matter. The report was based on analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images. The report was particularly important as the disease could have posed a threat to the US troops stationed in Asia.
"Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event", one source said. "It was then briefed multiple times to" the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's Joint Staff and the White House.
"The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we're discussing". "But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on", the source was quoted as saying.
Starting from November, the policy-makers and decision-makers of both the federal government and the National Security Council at the White House were repeatedly briefed all through December.
Chinese government withheld key information
The detailed explanation of the issue featured even in the President's Daily Brief of intelligence matters, early in January. Since the release of the NCMI report in November, other intelligence community bulletins started circulating through confidential government channels.
According to those bulletins, the Chinese government was aware that the contagion was out of control, but withheld the information from the intelligence community.
When Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked about the issue, he said, "I can't recall". "But we have many people who watch this closely. We have the premier infectious disease research institute in America, within the United States Army. So, our people who work these issues directly watch this all the time".
Asked further, whether he "would have known if there was briefed to the National Security Council in December?" "Yes. I'm not aware of that", he replied.
Pentagon denies the report
In a statement on Wednesday, Col. R. Shane Day, Director of the NCMI said: "As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists".
The emergence of a new strain of coronavirus in the Chinese city Wuhan was first reported in late December. Since then, the disease Covid-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, spread both domestically in China and abroad.
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic. As on April 9, the disease has infected over 1.5 million people around the globe and killed 88,505.